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Poster: fedupwithgarbage Date: Sep 4, 2009 4:59pm
Forum: feature_films Subject: Re: Movie Serial PD Check

Just thought I'd pass this along. Curiosity got the best of me so I sent an attorney friend of mine that specializes in Copyright Law an email along with several postings from here about copyrighted material and this is just a portion of what he wrote back.

"RE: Armchair Lawyers:
The best advice I can give you is to just be aware of the fact that, unfortunately, there are those individuals that would like nothing more than to perpetuate the misinformation that a particular work is protected under copyright law and cannot be distributed legally if for no other reason than to make said work retain, or even elevate, it's market value. Especially if the work in question happened to be in their possession. This may or may not be the case here but I did notice some confusing misconceptions and errors in their analysis."

Just something to think about.

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Poster: Video-Cellar Date: Sep 9, 2009 12:10am
Forum: feature_films Subject: Re: Movie Serial PD Check

So is your attorney friend saying that copyright is a form of non-transferable property? If copyright is non-transferable, maybe we should all start uploading those pre-1984 MGM titles that were sold to Ted Turner. The copyrights would not be valid after a films were sold to him. What about the Monogram Pictures that were at AAP and then Lorimar before ending up at Warners??

US copyright had facility for successors in interest to renew and control copyright even if they are not releated to the original owner of the work.

The first point I made in the above post is not a point of copyright law. It was the Motion Pictures Producers and Distributors Association (now MPAA) protocol on remakes and literary rights. There was a system of exclusive rights to copyright and PD literary works for member studios. The best example:
Universal purchases rights on a the novel "The Hunchback of Notre Dame". They now have rights to make a film of that story. They make their film. It is a success. A few years later Carl Leamle Jr, now at MGM, decides that he wants to remake "Hunchback" with Peter Lorre. In order to do it he has to purchase the literary rights off Universal and, under the protocol, purchase the negative and rights to the Universal film. But his new movie never gets made. Then in 1930s Pandro S Berman at RKO wants to make "Hunchback" which is now a public domain novel. Under MPPDA protocol that doesn't matter. He has to purchase MGM's interest in the novel (for a PD work this was called "priority" on a title and story) and the negative and rights to the Universal film for $125,000. And we all have RKO to thank for the Universal film not being renewed.

Most studio pictures that are in the public domain fell out of copyright because they were remade by another studio who did not add the original to their renewal triggers data:
A Star is Born (RKO ["What Price Hollywood?"] - Selznick - Warners x 2) WB own What Price and their 2 versions but allowed the Selznick version to lapse.
A Farewell To Arms made by Paramount. Rights sold to Warners as Bogart and Garbo vehicle that didn't happen. WB did a failed remake ("A Force of Arms") then recut and reissued the original. Later sold the rights to Selznick who made it at Fox. Fox didn't renew the original.
This is the same for "Algiers", "Penny Serenade", "Swing High Swing Low" and many, many others.

This protocol was in force for a long time. Disney had to buy the rights to the 1924 Paramount film of Peter Pan to make their cartoon in 1953 and both prior versions of Swiss Family Robinson for their 1960 production. Of course, they were more dilligent with copyright renwals - renewing them all and then burrying the films.

For more info on this interesting chapter of film production history see: David Pierce, 2007. "Forgotten faces: why some of our cinema heritage is part of the public domain" Film History, Volume 19, pp. 130–137.

Transfer of interest in copyrights is the most common way that an old studio pictures are mistakenly identified as PD. Like the 1924 Peter Pan film mentioned above. Kino have just licensed it for DVD. Who would think they licensed it from Paramount let alone Disney. The natural assumption is that it is an old silent studio picture on an indy DVD label, therefore, it must be PD.

The limited term licensing of underlying works and fixed-term copyright assignment for copyrights in derivative works is very common. All remaining rights in the Universal series of Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials and recut features reverted to King Features Hearst at renewal. Rights to "Babes in Toyland" reverted to the music publishers after 10 Years. Rights to "Algiers" reverted to the makers of "Pepe Le Moko" after 9 years.

Underlying copyrights in otherwise PD derivative works are a valid way to control those works. There is legislation and case law to support that stand. I don't think anyone would venture to say that the Dick Tracy stories, strips and books are not covered by some form of enforcable copyright. Whether those rights are enforced on all of the films is the question.

This post was modified by Video-Cellar on 2009-09-05 08:34:33

This post was modified by Video-Cellar on 2009-09-09 07:10:42